Book Review: “Of Patchwork Warriors: (Being Vol.1 of the Precipice Dominions)” by R.J. Llewellyn

patchwork warriorsI don’t read a lot of epic fantasy. But when Audrey Driscoll recommends a book, I pay attention, regardless of genre.

Of Patchwork Warriors begins with a glossary of terms used in the world of the novel, which is called the Oakhostian Empire. These include amusing words like “kerfluffeg” and “blimping,” a mild obscenity, as well as terms like “Stommigheid,” which is a peculiar sort of ether—indeed, sometimes called “the Ethereal”—which is not entirely understood. It’s something like the Force in Star Wars, but it has a Lovecraftian element as well, in the sense that messing with it can summon unspeakable monsters from beyond the known world.

Naturally, a villain by the name of Lord Ragithyl is trying to do exactly this, and so creates a ripple effect across the empire, catching the attentions of Meradat, one of the Custodians, (a sort of religious order) the LifeGuard, (the army) as well as merchants, mercenaries, and an eccentric young woman named Karlyn, who has a nose for evil spirits related to Stommigheid—or, in her colorful dialect, “storm-higgle.”

Karlyn and Meradat travel together, and eventually meet a LifeGuard named Arketre Berritt, a medician. Karlyn and Berritt gradually become friends, as their adventures lead them to a port town under attack. In this attack, they meet a woman named Trelli, who has unwillingly gained mysterious magical Stommigheid powers which among other things, make her hands glow red and blue. The three women are gradually drawn into discovering and combating the wicked Lord Ragithyl’s plot, as well as political jockeying from various factions of the empire.

It’s a strange tale Llewellyn weaves, with lots of different threads to it, but the heart of the book—and for me, the best part—is the banter between the three main characters. Berritt (Or “Flaxi,” as Karlyn calls her) is very likable, Trelli’s down-to-earth, good-natured personality is relatable, and Karlyn… well, Karlyn is almost indescribable. From her obsession with fire, to her keen sense of smell, to her bizarre jargon, she’s a unique character. Sometimes she was annoying, but she was supposed to be, and like Trelli and Berritt, I grew to like her in spite of it all.

The book ends on a satisfying note, but still leaves a lot to be explored in the sequel. It’s actually supposed to be a four-part series, I believe.

The language in this book is very clever, and Karlyn is only the most obvious example. As Audrey mentioned in her review, some of the invented swear words are quite addictive. I applaud Llewellyn for that. 

The big flaw is the familiar trouble with most indie books: typos. I felt they were more numerous here than in the average indie, although that may be an illusion simply because this book, as befits an epic fantasy, is longer than average. And because of Llewellyn’s creativity with the language, it sometimes makes it difficult to follow some passages. The typos seemed heaviest in the middle of the book—the beginning and end were smoother.

Beyond that, there were times when it was confusing as to what was happening, and some of the concepts relating to the Stommigheid were so abstract, it was tough to visualize. One thing that I would have found helpful would be the inclusion of a map of the world at the beginning. I know the Oakhostian Empire is based on Europe, but that wasn’t enough for me to get situated. Certain groups were similar to European nations, but that still didn’t give me a good idea of where things were relative to one another.

But despite these flaws, Llewellyn obviously put a lot of time into building this world. More than any novel, it reminded me of the famous fantasy RPGs of yore: Planescape: Torment, Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Pillars of Eternity and so on. Even the lead trio fits into the mold of classic RPG archetypes: Berritt is a healer/soldier, Karlyn is a quintessential rogue, and Trelli is a mage. 

In fact, as I think about it, I really want to play an RPG set in this world. Chris Avellone or Josh Sawyer ought to see if Llewellyn will be willing to license a game adaptation.

I originally was going to end my review there, adding only that I’ve already started Volume 2, Our Skirmishers of Lace, Steel, and Fire, and then link to Llewellyn’s blog.

But, alas! The blog no longer exists. In fact, going to the post where Audrey originally re-blogged the news about the launch of Volume 2, which was how I discovered the series, I find all that’s there now is Audrey’s text—Llewellyn’s post is gone, along with the rest of his blog.

It bothers me when a blog vanishes. I don’t like to be nosy, and no blogger is obligated to keep their work around if they do not want to. But all the same, it makes me uneasy when years’ worth of writing just vanishes. It disturbs both the blogger and the historian in me. I only read a few posts of Llewellyn’s, but I enjoyed those that I did, and had been planning to read more about his process once I finished the first volume.

In retrospect, perhaps Llewellyn’s conception of the Stommigheid is not so abstract after all; for we blogger-folk are met upon an equally precarious and mysterious plane of existence.

But enough! If you like epic fantasy, consider giving Of Patchwork Warriors a try. After all, I don’t like epic fantasy, and even I thought it was fun, in spite of its flaws.

15 Comments

  1. Good review, Berthold! I like the way you summarized the plot first; I usually skip that part in reviews, but this book is pretty complex, so it made sense to give a quick sketch of the basics. As to the disappearance of RJ’s blog, I believe it’s because of issues he was having with WordPress a few weeks ago. He intends to re-start his blog at some point I believe.

    1. Thanks, Audrey! And thanks again for bringing these books to my attention, as well. Good to know RJ plans to return–I’d been really enjoying his posts.

  2. I’ve bee having a problem getting word press to take my comments. I show signed up on fb, but when I go to post it wants me to fill out boxes that don’t exist.

    1. Well, that’s annoying. I checked; you didn’t go to spam. Let me check some settings…

    2. Okay… I have a theory. I think the comment form has black text that’s invisible against the site background. I flipped it so it should show up now. Although if you’re using the site in light mode, it will still be a problem. Apparently, the comment form’s settings don’t sync up with the rest of the site. No idea why. Let me know how it goes next time you comment.

  3. HI Berthold!
    Llewellyn (aka Roger Jacob…..Llewellyn is my middle name and suits Fantasy writing)
    (In true Heroic Fantasy fashion despite being banished by the fanatical cult of Spam Filter I have returned, renewed with a slightly new identity and determined to fight to good fight…ie promote writing & writers)
    Thank you for the review of my book, I appreciate all of your comments in particular your constructive criticism. I’ll try and explain some of the issues you encountered.

    1) Maps. I once tried a map but found either the borders kept having to be changed to suit the narrative or some nations were impossibly large/small, thus I leave that to far more talented folk (offers anyone?). And hide in the shadow of Joe Abercrombie who says he doesn’t like maps (and sells lots of books)

    2) I am convinced that typos are actually a mischievous and sometimes malignant sub-species of pixies which have somehow made their home in the cyber world. Despite the best efforts of re-reading, using Word Spellcheck (Ha! Had to put that in as a joke) and the very useful Grammarly the little sprites still sneak in and alter words overnight.
    To be serious what doesn’t help the reader, as you will have discerned is my inclination to make up words and use accents….What can I say…..My unconscious influences are obviously Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa?.

    3a) Confusions Powers: When I set out to make a serious attempt at this world of mine (previous attempts, bad) what lay in the back of my mind was the theme of the boundaries of knowledge. Good scientists are quick to admit they do not know all and are still searching; this inspired the background to the power The Stommigheid / Ethereal / Astatheia. No one really understands its ‘whole’; as it reacts in different ways to different people and can at times be used via machinery….I don’t understand its ‘whole’, but know it is dangerous.

    3b) Confusions Politics, People and War: I have read a great deal of military and political history and the one lesson which came over is how quickly events cause plans to spiral out of control until everything is Reaction. Thus in these books there is no ‘Perfect Plan Person’, plans fall apart quickly. No villains sit or stand grinning away until the last chapter when by some suspiciously miraculous effort the heroes overcome them. All is chaos from very early on.

    3c Confusions Characters: My books are about to the poor guy/girl at the front line, the ones who have to do the dirty work and never quite understands just what is going on. So all they are concerned with is surviving and looking our for their own….which if this happens to destroy some evil, it is the fault of the evil for getting in the way of them in the first place! I also try and exam the corrosions which these experiences extract on people. Arketre’s narrative in Volume 2 was something of dedication to those front-line folk and how they can be subsumed into the twisted world they are required to inhabit; although Karlyn and Trelli both have their trials, Arketre the soldier is the most vulnerable to the insidious twisting of warfare.

    I hope this has clarified somethings for you. I have taken on board what you have pointed on and will bear these in mind as Volume Three progresses (I have an ending, and a start…the middle bit….errr….not so easy)

    All the best
    Roger

            1. Oooh, yay! I look forward to reading it. Good luck; hopefully no storm-higgle whychery will get it this time. 🙂

              1. Hi Berthold…
                This is being written on a Word Doc to be saved and Copy & Pasted no matter how many times until WP gets it right (Me and WP…. as Bug Bunny said ‘Of course you realise this means war’)
                Anyway to your review.
                Thanks very much for taking the time to read and review ‘Of Patchwork Warriors’ I do appreciate your efforts and will be taking these on board as Vol 3 takes shape (I have a beginning and an ending…..middle bit..err….not so easy). After all I write for folk to read and enjoy, so all feedback is valuable. The following are not defences or ripostes by an injured ego, far from it these are clarifications and explanation as to what is going on in my hectic little mind.
                Typos: Y’know I do suspect there is a clan of pixies who migrated into the cyber world and spend their time hiding valuable documents or inserting typos when the author/editor/beta/ reader/Grammarly’s back is turned. The number of times I went through that narrative! Also my predilection for making up words and having folk speak with accents does not help. All the same I apologise and in recompense sell books as cheap as Amazon will allow (and do free promotions..often).
                Maps: Good point. My failing there, was being European (I used to be British, but Brexit….long story) I ‘knew’ where places were, and should not have assumed a reader would. I tried Maps once, nations and locations kept shifting with the narrative and ending up not fitting. I leave these to more adept folk (offers anyone?). And hide in the shadow of Joe Ambercrombie who doesn’t like maps (any get-out clause will do for me)
                Confusions…..Yes. I’ll try and clarify that as follows:
                The Stommigheid / Ethereal / Astatheia : The vagueness is in keeping with many fields of Science in which the responsible attitude is ‘We are still learning and just don’t know it all’. Thus the power has a more scientific basis, but in keeping with the Time and The Society progress is learning in disjointed and often focused on one aspect; thus The LifeGuard tend to utilise it for military purposes. The danger lies from within people. A parallel would be Nuclear Power could be fine as a source of energy….then we invent nuclear weapons. It may have a sentient component; I, like the characters, am not sure.
                Politics.Wars & People: My readings of histories social, political and military taught me there are no perfect plans, and soon matters lurch out of control until everyone is reacting and making it up as they go along. Thus in the volumes, none of the ‘power-players’ will ever get away with their schemes going well until the last chapter when the heroes suspiciously foil them. Everything is messy. I try and signpost who is doing what and why, but it never stays still….Read any history of any 20th century War, you’ll get the idea.
                Central Characters: Against this backdrop there are three major and a few minor folk trying to make it through the various conflicts and confusions. They are concerned with surviving and the survival of ‘their own’. If anyone’s plans or ploys get in the way, then there will be ‘issues’. Arketre the soldier is particularly vulnerable to this. She is dedicated to all of those ‘front-line’ folk sent into to clean up others messes. She might start off nice but in Volume 2 she has to struggle with, at times, enthusiastically, embracing the warping War causes. Both Karlyn and Trelli have their own challenges, Karlyn is very vulnerable not knowing where she came from, or why and Trelli dealing with the temptations that a sudden ‘gift’ or power brings, she has many ethical matters to deal with.
                Thus Confusion is part of the books, which is why in Volume Two I warn the reader of what they will face. The main conflict there was based on the many wars where a ‘great power’ was humbled by a smaller one, as usual there were many reasons why the ‘great’ power fell, most of them political or through hubris.
                That went on longer than I expected…..Hope it clarifies!

                1. Thanks so much for the detailed reply. And let me also clarify that none of the issues I mentioned really detracted from the story for me. I always feel obligated to mention things like typos, because there are some people who can’t stand them, so I like to warn them ahead of time. Personally, they don’t bother me that much. And I am in complete agreement re. these pixies you mention–no matter how many times I proofread something, it seems typos creep in. The only failsafe method I’ve found is to read my work aloud, but that takes forever.

                  As for maps, I know what you mean; it’s easy for readers like me to demand them, but they’re hard as hell to make. For my science-fiction book, I toyed with the idea of creating a map of the different worlds and locales I imagined, but it was just too time-consuming, at least for me.

                  Overall, I really liked the vague nature of the Stommigheid, and you’re right, politics, war etc. are full of baffling and confusing things. I’m looking forward to seeing where the story will go from here. Good luck with Volume 3 (middles are always the hardest part) and I really am glad that you are back in the blogosphere. I love meeting authors online; especially when it leads to discussions like this about the background of their books.

                  1. Thank you Berthold for the opportunity to talk about my books. They have taken on their own life and discussing them is a bit like talking about a country new to you and you’ve just visited…. I have a notion that in this 14 billion year old Universe which is maybe 60 billion light years in circumference these aren’t stories but themes coming in from another part of the cosmos and I’m translating them into ‘Humanspeak’…
                    Yes, I tried the reading allowed approach to, the trouble is I started doing accents and as a result altering words half-way.
                    through!
                    Sigh….
                    Well there ever be a perfect method?

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